A model of reinvention

For 10 years, Donna Bunte lived the glamorous life of the high-fashion model – gracing the covers of Australian and British Vogue, Mirabella, Glamour and W and living in London, Paris, Munich, Milan and Sydney.

But Bunte (pronounced boon TAY) has always been more than just a pretty face. When she got married and had children, she decided her interests and ambitions went beyond the camera (though she still models periodically).

Like sister models Kathy Ireland, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, Bunte has worked hard to flesh out a career apart from modeling.

That hard work began in earnest while she earned a master’s degree in acupuncture from the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in Manhattan and became certified in Chinese herbal medicine, all while modeling part time and starting a family. In 1995, Bunte opened her practice in New York City and in 1999, founded Greenwich Holistic Health, after moving to Old Greenwich with her husband Michel Mein, son Logan and daughter Julia. For two years the busy mom commuted between offices until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when, she says, it became too difficult and she decided to devote herself entirely to her Old Greenwich practice.

Greenwich Holistic Health is rooted in the ancient beliefs and practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which encompasses Chinese herbal remedies, nutrition, acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion (the use of an herb heated over acupuncture points), cupping (a process of creating suction on the skin by using heated cups to stimulate blood flow) and Qigong (aligning breath, movement and awareness for exercise, meditation and healing).

“I wanted to learn a complete system of medicine so I went into Chinese medicine,” Bunte says about TCM, which treats the whole person and not just the disease.

Accessing different modalities, she’s able to diagnose and treat her patients’ wide variety of problems, which run the gamut from sports injuries to infertility. But each patient is unique and each comes with his or her individual needs. So that’s why all of her patients start by filling out a detailed form, followed by a comprehensive consultation in which Bunte sits down with a patient, the two talking about major complaints and all the little stuff in between.

“People call it alternative medicine, but it’s been around longer than Western medicine,” she says with a laugh.

Indeed, Chinese medicine has been healing people for thousands of years. But, she adds, “It was (the Greek physician) Hippocrates who said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food’ and that was back in 460 B.C.”

Using food as medicine is a concept that resonates powerfully in her practice.

Whether it’s teaching healthy food choices or helping people lose weight, Bunte advocates using Standard Process cleanses to detox the body.

“They (Standard Process) were the first company in the country to make vitamins back in 1929. They grow everything on their farm in Wisconsin, so it’s all food-based. The food that is used in the supplements and the cleanse are things that help whatever your ailment is. If it’s a cleanse, it’s things that detoxify the liver and the kidneys, like burdock root and milk thistle or sweet pea vine – all different things that support your system while you’re eating simpler. ”

Chinese medicine is all about balance.

“I’m trying to find the imbalance, find the root of the problem, not just fixing symptoms. Those are part of what’s wrong, but there’s usually a reason behind them. Maybe it’s just stress, but I do look at the whole picture, you know, lifestyle, sleep, food, how good is the quality of your food.”

By way of example, she offers, “Maybe you’re completely fatigued. Your knees hurt. Your ears ring. You don’t get enough sleep, and you have a dry mouth. Those are signs in Chinese medicine of what we call kidney deficiency. The kidney Qi governs reproduction and your overall energy. … Say you’re depleted, wired and tired, running on empty, then you’d need some kidney Qi tonics.”

Acupuncture plays an integral role in her practice, being used to release blockages that cause imbalances in the body. Illness arises when excesses disrupt the balance.

“(Acupuncture) works to unblock blockages in the system so that the Qi (energy) can flow through the pathways of the body. Blockages show up as pain, dysfunction, like digestive problems, or insomnia or a pain in the muscle from maybe an injury.

“Think of a river that has rocks blocking it. If you remove the blockage, the river can flow,” she says. “All acupuncture does is allow it to flow. You can release the excess and tonify the deficiencies.”

Still, Chinese medicine does have its skeptics, as Bunte acknowledges.

“You know, some people may say you wouldn’t go to someone like me for heart issues. Well, you surely want to see a cardiologist, but we can reduce the stress that can cause heart problems, the cholesterol with the diet and herbs. So almost everything is treatable naturally.”

Though if someone is really unwell, she says, it’s important for him or her to be under the guidance of a physician. Quite often she works in unison with Western doctors, as when her cancer patients are undergoing chemo treatment.

“I’m prescribing herbs that are shown to reduce tumors, like certain mushrooms and boost the immune system from the chemo, radiation and nausea. Acupuncture helps with nausea,” she says.

And, as it turns out, acupuncture also helps with wrinkles. Facial rejuvenation (or what some people refer to as an acupuncture face-lift) can lessen facial lines.

“I know the anatomy and I know where the muscles insert so we work to tighten things so they don’t sag. But it’s a commitment. It takes about 12 sessions,” she says about the treatment, which she performs in her office.

“I’m more about health, but when I’m treating someone for beauty, I’m also looking at their overall health. And why is their skin bad? Are you kidney deficient? Why do you have circles under your eyes?”

Bunte’s holistic approach to wellness began as a personal journey when her own medical issues led her to Chinese medicine.

“I healed myself many moons ago with Chinese herbs. I had ovarian cysts that they wanted to remove and I got a book on Chinese herbs and did it myself,” she says matter-of-factly.

When doctors discovered she had a heart condition, once again, she healed herself.

“Western doctors wanted to put me on heart attack medicine for a valve problem and I researched nutrition and eliminated all sugar from my diet and got into nutrition that way and realized how we really are what we eat.”

And after years of trying to get pregnant and being diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” by Western doctors, she turned to acupuncture.

“I had basically two months of treatment and everything changed. I was a different person. I didn’t have painful cycles and was able to get pregnant right away,” she says with a huge smile.

Through the wisdom of ancient Chinese medicine, Bunte learned how to ameliorate her illnesses and to help others live a balanced and healthy life.

“I can give people energy; I can relax them; I can balance them,” she says of her holistic approach to health.

For more, visit donnabunte.com.

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